Awoist and poet, Odia Ofeimun, is not happy with how Nigeria has been destructured and unitarised over the years and how some vested interests are interpreting restructuring as a move to dismember the country. At the 20th anniversary lecture of the City People magazine, penultimate Thursday, he traced the socio-political history of the country and proffered ways Nigeria can be restructured without pains.
This was captured in the 48-page lecture he titled: ”Restructuring the Nigerian Federation Without Tears.” After the lecture, he also entertained questions from an audience that included Chief Tola Adeniyi and Mr Jahman Anikulapo among others.
Among other things, he said the North moved against the re-election of President Goodluck Jonathan because of the next round of crude oil sharing even as he insisted that delay in restructuring Nigeria is delaying the progress of the country. Excerpts:
Restructuring, which is so much on everybody’s lips implies changing the arrangements in accordance with which we are being governed. It may imply just a change of arrangements but it means different things to different people.
Some elder statesmen who should be providing clearer perspectives, have turned the ground quite potty by viewing it in terms of a bid to dismember Nigeria; that is, seeing the demand for restructuring as a wager between a unitary system of government, which they confuse with national unity, as against true federalism, which seeks to devolve power from the centre to constituent units.
They take the position of beneficiaries of a system, who do not want things to change.
Others see it as a matter of enthroning the old regionalism that was smashed by military coups in 1966 but is now being proposed for a revamp from three and four into six geopolitical zones. The latter, superficially, raises fears that, having six zones like former Yugoslavia, is tantamount to taking a leaf from a country that has since dismembered into seven different countries.
These fears, it would seem, have yielded an extremist dimension represented by President Muhammadu Buhari’s wish for local governments to gain autonomy from state governments so that states will no longer be able to “act as if they own the local governments”.
True meaning of restructuring:
I see restructuring as a change in the spatial arrangements by which we are governed. It calls forth the necessity to have protected and defended cultural and economic geographies for the exercise of power.
The point is to bring it all down to the level of serious interactive discourses so that it is not left simply in the hands of those defenders of the people’s interests who, being human, can sometimes stumble and fall in the course of waging the good fight to right the wrongs of our time.
Let’s just say that this intervention is about proper definitions, accounting, and monitoring of how we got to where we are, and may yet arrive at what is most desirable about Nigerian Federalism without falling into half-way houses, shabby compromises and complete reversals and displacements of goals – such as what I call the Khalifah Syndrome – which accompanied and mangled many of our national struggles in the past.
The Khalifah Syndrome: I want to make a special mention of the June 12 Struggle.
Let us remember, that once upon a time, we all woke up to find that key stalwarts who were standing on June 12, began to ask for General Sani Abacha to intervene in order to unlock the jam and immobilism that had overtaken the country.
Our own Gani Fawehinmi, Beko Ransome Kuti, Bolaji Akinyemi, Ken Saro Wiwa – all the pro-democracy princes were rooting for the man whom all those conversant with the politics of the Nigerian Army called The Khalifah, the successor. It was spooky; and it was clear that someone they had a reason to trust had overcome their sense of vigilance. Soon after, the General actually took over power and all the pro-democracy people including the avatars of the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, were nominating their chosen ministers into Abacha’s cabinet. Even the custodian of the mandate, Chief MKO Abiola himself later admitted that he too agreed with General Sani Abacha that he could stay for a while.
Except that nobody really cared to ask: how long is a while? That is, until the General proved his status as Khalifah by digging in so deep, it required his seizure of the custodian of the mandate to define what a while could mean. Thereafter, at his death, and after the passing away of the custodian himself, another opportunity arose to refocus. It became a turf war between the radicals in the pro-democracy movement who wanted pure democracy and the patriarchs who wanted a select group of elders from across the country to constitute a transition council.
It was actually a fruitless debate because there was no way an electoral process – with electoral commissions etcetera – could be adopted without giving the military, already in power – a significant role. So, poor strategizing gave the baton back to the military.
They promptly rooted for one of themselves, already appropriately civilianized after jail, to come to power.
This created the opportunity for another chance when the Alliance for Democracy decided to work with the newly elected President Olusegun Obasanjo’s government. It was made to appear as serious decision-making even when the real issue was no longer whether to work or not work with the government but who should be sent from the pro-democracy bracket.
In my view, at such critical conjunctures, the pro-democracy stalwarts in our midst have always managed to flunk the test because of being too strapped to a personality profiling of issues rather than bother with core ideas or agreed goals.
Formation of APC, a strategic failure
In my view, the most heinous of such strategic failures, and one that is being made to appear like a success story, is the pursuit of the coalition that yielded the fusion called All Progressive Congress, APC. It is a highly dispiriting failure that cannot be properly understood by looking at its presumed success in ousting President Goodluck Jonathan from Office. In itself, that ouster was the failure; especially, given the replacement that was rooted for with so much vigour by people who said they wanted restructuring.
Only the day before, restructuring of the Federation had been the rousing mantra. It was so swiftly abandoned or let us say toned down to the point of denial, after the advocates discovered a beeline to political power as a more valued project.
Proponents of restructuring distancing themselves from the idea
They began the distancing of restructuring away from themselves; they, who had literally driven the whole country to a frenzy, a virtual apoplexy, in pursuit of a Sovereign National Conference that was supposed to achieve restructuring!
True, no matter how they defined the sovereign in the national conference, it was clearly an impossibility to get it according to their agitatorial designs. But they ought to have been the first to know that.
It turned out that the mode in which President Goodluck Jonathan eventually pulled it off was the only way to get it right without self-deception. Which still did not prevent the lack of sovereignty from being raised as a rationale for rejecting the Conference. The rejection thrived on other bits about its rushed nature, it’s coming too close to the general election, and therefore it’s being a part of a hidden agenda.
I dare to say that only those who were not paying attention to the setting up of the Belgore Commission, the civil society confabs, and the reviews in both houses of the 7th National Assembly, could stake such grounds for their rejection of the National Conference. Anyhow, the big snag, and the actual source of delay in putting the conference on the road in the first place, was that some stalwarts who had once supported restructuring as the spine of their political projects, simply acceded to thoroughly unfounded reasons for joining the push against the President of a minority ethnic extraction whom a Doctrine of Necessity had put in Aso Rock.
Why North moved against Jonathan
Let’s put a finger on it: It was not just because there was an agreement inside the PDP that only a northerner could take over from Umaru Yar’adua. Even if there was, a private arrangement in a political party should never have been considered fit to overawe a national constitution.
To concede office to the Vice President after the death of President Yar’adua, should have been automatic for true patriots.
The more plausible rationale for not doing so was that all former Presidents of Nigeria, and shadowy cabals around them, wanted to have their leg in the door for the next round of bidding for oil blocks. They could not trust a leader of minority extraction, whose siblings were sitting with explosives on the ready, on top of the oil reserves, to do it in their own interest.
President Goodluck Jonathan himself, not being a child of the bride’s chamber in his party, really could not have had any clue as to what the hullaballoo was all about. His trying to be his own man, as the whole country obviously expected, was at the heart of the crisis.
No one knew this better than former President Obasanjo whose inability to put strings on either Yar’ Adua or Yar’ Adua’s successor, was his core reason for wanting to build a national constituency to oust a President regarded by many as his protégé. President Jonathan was so very snidely, and so quickly, slapped with being clueless in a way that was meant to de-legitimate him before he could do any damage to his putative minders after the Doctrine of Necessity that brought him to power.
This was compounded by those who knew that this President of minority extraction, who was already putting his foot down to hold a National Conference even before he was sworn in, was not averse to restructuring the Federation.
Famous oil war
Yes, in spite of Goodluck Jonathan’s wily naivety, they knew. Another way of saying this is that the split that led a large Arewa bloc to exit from the Peoples Democratic Party was, properly speaking, a move in the war to restructure or not to restructure the Nigerian Federation.
The big salvo about Jonathan’s cluelessness had taken off within that famous oil war, the occupy Nigeria episode, in which many people fought against their country while imagining that they were protesting against a clue-less President.
Along the way, while President Jonathan was literally bending over backward, through appointments and projects sited in the North, to win back the masses from those who had left his party, the leader of the pack, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, zeroed in.
He had wasted his first term in office as President in so much grand-standing before he suddenly realized during his second term that he needed a third term in order to do grand things that he could make grandiloquent speeches about. The pity is that it was this search for a third term, through a successor, that the Action Congress of Nigeria ACN as a party had to embrace as Prince Henry The Navigator, as the party joined a standing open conspiracy. No question about it: it remains one of the great tragedies of the Fourth Republic, one great defeat of rationality in Nigerian politics.
As it happened, all the forewarnings about coalitions that could destroy the basis of decades-old agitation for restructuring and the politics of social welfare were ignored by the adventuring coalition-builders who soon landed a truly unique but quite unprepossessing fusion called APC. Every indicator of danger in the highly quixotic search for a messiah was pooh-poohed for standing in the way of the search for power. They saw restructuring of the federation no longer as a core issue but a peripheral one to be dispensed with, according to the coming electoral heist.
This was why very little was done to define what kind of restructuring they needed. It was a case of get the messiah first, and restructuring would follow; that is, if it would still be needed.
Or was it a case of if we have power, why should restructuring matter? Either way, it was another return to the Khalifa syndrome which had enabled Abacha to stay for a while and to dig deep without anyone having laid a basis for reclaiming the boggled mandate.
The parameters were simply never laid out, nor was there a reasoned apportionment of personnel to guarantee commitment to shared goals.
Quite unsettling is that, listening to, and reading what is being poured down by many old and born-again champions of restructuring, it is clear that there is so much missing in the discussions, with too many people too much at sea to know what to do about it.
Officially, having rejected the way of the National Conference, with President Muhammadu Buhari, interning the report on a shelf that he may never return to, it has become obvious that those who wish to have Nigeria restructured have a fight on their hands that may be tougher than any they had yet seen. So to say, the battle for restructuring is not one that Nigerians can lose.
But it could be won for the wrong reasons. And that would be tragic. Which is why advocates of restructuring need unusual thinking caps while they are at it.